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Kansas, North Carolina atop NCAA Tournament odds heading into Sweet 16

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With the Final Four due to be played in Glendale, Arizona, the updated odds to win the NCAA Tournament are tempting bettors to back a western team, even though it’s been 20 years since one cut down the nets in April.

The Kansas Jayhawks and North Carolina Tar Heels, respectively, are 1-2 on the college basketball champion futures with odds of +475 and +500 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.  But some of the more interesting movement since the dust settled from the first weekend – when the past two national champions, Villanova and Duke, were each bounced – involves teams from (or close to) the West Coast.

The Arizona Wildcats – who have the lure of a Final Four practically in their backyard – and Gonzaga Bulldogs have each climbed up to +650, after being listed at +1200 and +1000 respectively. The two might be on a collision course for the West Region title, with Wildcats star Lauri Markannen going up against a swarming Zags defense.

The UCLA Bruins (+900) have better value, since their run is premised on having to go through the Kentucky Wildcats (+1000) and potentially North Carolina just to make the Final Four. The Bruins have looked impressive; they were one of only two favorites to cover the spread during the eight second-round games last Sunday. A team with talent such as Bryce Alford and Lonzo Ball is an irresistible force, to say the least.

That said, Kansas’ odds have dropped to +475 – from +800 last week – for many reasons, among them the sure handle of point guard Frank Mason III. The Jayhawks don’t necessarily have their Final Four ticket punched, but the remaining Midwest Region field of the Michigan Wolverines (+1600), Oregon Ducks (+1800) and Purdue Boilermakers (+2000) seem eminently beatable.

Star Justin Jackson and North Carolina have tougher competition in the South Region. The Tar Heels have drawn the pesky Butler Bulldogs (+4000) as their Sweet 16 foe and potentially could face the Kentucky-UCLA winner in the Elite Eight, although the survivor will have to recover fast.

Another interesting mover on the board is the Florida Gators (+1200), whose odds have dropped by more than half. The Gators rate the best odds of any team still alive in the East Region. Oddsmakers still don’t think the Baylor Bears (+1600) can keep it together.

The Sweet 16 gets underway on Thursday with four games, including Michigan as a 1.5-point favorite against the Oregon Ducks. As well, Gonzaga is a three-point favorite against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Kansas is a five-point favorite against Purdue. One trend of note: Kansas is 3-3 SU and 1-5 ATS in its last six games when it was favored against a 4-seed. And Arizona is a 7.5-point favorite against the Xavier Musketeers. Arizona is 5-4-1 ATS in its last 10 games where it was favored by seven to 12.5 points according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database.

North Carolina narrow favorite against Gonzaga for NCAA Tournament championship

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Joel Berry II and the North Carolina Tar Heels, who only seem to play close games at the Final Four, are a slim betting favorite against the first-time finalist Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The Tar Heels are listed as a 1.5-point favorite against the Bulldogs with 153.5-point total in the college basketball championship game matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The teams tip off at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Monday.

The Tar Heels are 7-2 both straight-up and against the spread on the college basketball point spreads in their last nine games as a favorite of 1.5 or fewer points. Gonzaga, though, is 15-1 SU in its last 16 games with one day off between games.

Coaches Roy Williams and Mark Few are going head-to-head for the first time since 2009, when UNC ousted the Zags in the Sweet 16 on its way to the national title. North Carolina is 0-4 ATS in its last four games after winning the previous game in a matchup, while Gonzaga is 6-0 SU and ATS in its last six games after losing the previous game in a matchup.

Gonzaga’s impressive record when it has a day of rest attests to having perhaps the deepest rotation in the country, with PG Nigel Williams-Goss as the floor leader.

Seven-foot-one Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins will be tasked with avoiding foul trouble and preventing North Carolina’s big men such as Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks from nabbing the offensive rebounds that give the Tar Heels extra scoring opportunities. How Collins, a NBA-bound freshman, responds to North Carolina’s challenge might make or break Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs are 1-5 SU in their last six games as an underdog, according to the OddsShark College Basketball Database, but those contests are spread out from the 2013-14 to 2015-16 seasons.

With North Carolina, the main question is the health of Berry, who is soldiering on with two sprained ankles. Berry clearly seemed affected during the Tar Heels’ semifinal win against Oregon and will have greater challenges against Gonzaga at each end of the court.

The Bulldogs have, in Williams-Goss, a more electric point guard and also play man-to-man defense while Oregon uses a zone. Justin Jackson, who is North Carolina’s first look on offense, is a resourceful attacker whom Gonzaga will be hard-pressed to shut down completely.

With Berry compromised, backcourt depth will be important. Gonzaga has been more impressive than North Carolina in this area during the run of the NCAA Tournament.

The total has gone under in seven of Gonzaga’s last 10 games. The total has gone under in Gonzaga’s last five games against the Atlantic Coast Conference The total has gone under in 10 of North Carolina’s last 14 games after a win. The total has also gone under in five of North Carolina’s last six games with a closing total of 153.5 points or less.

Final Four betting preview: Gonzaga, North Carolina lead odds for matchups

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While the North Carolina Tar Heels are a slight favorite to win the national championship entering the Final Four, they are taking some troubling trends with them to Glendale.

Led by forwards Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks, the Tar Heels are the +140 favorite on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. North Carolina was the favorite at the outset of the tournament and has had enough talent to override a habit of letting opponents back into games in the second half. That’s contributed to a 19-16-2 against-the-spread record this year.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are deemed the most worthy challenger at +180, while the Oregon Ducks (+550) and South Carolina Gamecocks (+750) are seen as the longer shots.

In game lines, Gonzaga is listed as a 6.5-point favorite against South Carolina for the first matchup on Saturday. Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss will need to be sharp against South Carolina’s swarming defense, which thrives at forcing turnovers that lead to baskets in transition.

Gonzaga’s defense has provided it with the cushion to win, but it’s notable that the Bulldogs are only 4-5-1 ATS over their last 10 games. Coach Mark Few’s emphasis on defense is also reflected in the fact that seven of Gonzaga’s last nine games have gone over.

South Carolina is a gritty group with their trio of leaders, SG Sindarius Thornwell, PG Duane Notice and SF P.J. Dozier. The Gamecocks have been underdogs in all four tournament wins, so that +6.5 line is enticing. The total has gone under in 21 of South Carolina’s last 30 games as an underdog.

North Carolina is favored by five points against Oregon in the matchup for the second semifinal. The health of PG Joel Berry, who has two wonky ankles, will be a concern going in with the Tar Heels, who are just 3-3-2 ATS over their last eight games.

North Carolina, which is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS in its last eight games against the Pac-12, has the most efficient offense in the field and has a rebounding machine under the basket in Kennedy Meeks.

Oregon, with a balanced lineup led by SF Tyler Dorsey and PF Dillon Brooks, is a team one underestimates at their peril. The Ducks are 17-7-1 ATS over their last 25 games as well as 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games on a Saturday, and they do a good job at limiting opponents’ looks, especially from three-point land.

Eight of their last 11 games have gone over; there’s a good chance the Ducks will try to run with North Carolina for portions of the contest.